John Kester describes his interests in Sustainable Communities and why he selected the program.


Watch Video: John Kester describes his interests in Sustainable Communities and why he selected the program.

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Cori Cusker describes what she discovered about the Sustainable Communities program in her first year, and how she negotiates the costs of graduate school.


Watch Video: Cori Cusker describes what she discovered about the Sustainable Communities program in her first year, and how she negotiates the costs of graduate school.

Video Accessibility Instructions:

These video instructions are located directy above a YouTube video. Hit the DOWN arrow key until you hear the words FLASH START. Once the screen reader is inside the FLASH OBJECT, hit the TAB key about 7 times until you hear PLAY BUTTON a second time. Hit the Spacebar key to play the video. You can then hit the Spacebar key again to pause the video. Feel free to hit TAB and TAB+SHIFT to listen to all the buttons in the FLASH OBJECT. Sometimes the PLAY button and the PAUSE button will be listed as an UNLABLED BUTTON.

Bryan McLaren describes why he chose this graduate program and his passion for studying sustainability.


Watch Video: Bryan McLaren describes why he chose this graduate program and his passion for studying sustainability.

Video Accessibility Instructions:

These video instructions are located directy above a YouTube video. Hit the DOWN arrow key until you hear the words FLASH START. Once the screen reader is inside the FLASH OBJECT, hit the TAB key about 7 times until you hear PLAY BUTTON a second time. Hit the Spacebar key to play the video. You can then hit the Spacebar key again to pause the video. Feel free to hit TAB and TAB+SHIFT to listen to all the buttons in the FLASH OBJECT. Sometimes the PLAY button and the PAUSE button will be listed as an UNLABLED BUTTON.

Sustainable Communities Student Research


Intuitive Architecture: An Alexandrian Vision for Contemporary

By: Sara McGee 

This thesis presented the argument that the present day culture of architecture is largely defective and that Christopher Alexander's theory of architecture offers honorable alternatives which deserve increasing attention. Central to his theory is the belief that human consciousness suffers from a "mechanistic" cosmology which is predominantly accountable for the degradation of the built environment and our human societies. Further, I argue that the present day culture of sustainable architecture has made great strides in offering solutions to the degradation of many built environments, but still does not respond in totality to the needs of humans. Lastly, an analysis of an alternative design curriculum which incorporates Alexandrian architectural theory was administered and tested on a group of design students at Northern Arizona University in the fall of 2010 and student reactions to the Alexandrian curriculum are included within this thesis.


Environmental Education Exploration in Preservice Teacher Education Programs: A Study at Northern Arizona University

By: David Melville

The Purpose of this thesis project was to explore the Environmental Education training in preservice teacher education programs, with a study at Northern Arizona University's (NAU’s) College of Education.  After reviewing in depth the literature available on the topic, I have designed a survey to distribute to students, faculty, and staff to examine their level of knowledge of environmental education.  With the data collected, I have designed recommendations and ways to increase the environmental training that students at the College of Education receive.  I interviewed the Dean of the College of Education, the Assistant Director of Student Services who heads all advising at the College of Education, and key faculty throughout the College of Education and larger university setting.  If we want to create stewardship for our planet, we must start by teaching our children, and this starts first by educating our teachers about environmental and sustainability topics.  The incorporation of Environmental Education at the pre-service level can be successful by insuring that those who teach know the importance of their role in environmental and sustainable education in the overall education of our children and within the larger educational system.


Integrating Community-Driven Economics into Elementary Education: Applications of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy and Public Achievement

By: John Kester

For economic education to become complete, alternative schools of economic thought should be integrated into the elementary curriculum. Challenges to traditional forms of economics establish consideration for both environmental and social integrity on par with economic concerns. To have an effective and equitable market economy, there must be community-oriented agents in action. Communities consist of two or more people that depend upon each other in symbioses of mutualism constantly interacting with the environment surrounding them. For community-driven decisions, the transaction of goods and services goes behind the scenes in a framework that stresses building relationships and networking capacity. Equity is pursued with fervor to the same degree as efficiency. Integration of community-driven economics into curricula is afoot, but it is currently restricted to higher education. By presenting the importance of making economic decisions in a community framework in elementary education, students can thrive off of these ideas in early developments via the classroom setting. The best way to approach this curricular development is through the use of culturally relevant pedagogy. This form of teaching fosters an inclusive setting for learning that draws on each student’s unique backgrounds. Lessons are based on encouraging academic achievement, cultural competence, and a critical consciousness. My goal is to make this curricular development meaningful beyond the content. Which is why the final piece, Public Achievement, facilitates the space for reflective action. The Public Achievement model gives students the opportunity to act on their learning by engaging the community. Students develop projects with tangible goals they “achieve” and make a difference to the community or “public”. With the three facets of economics, pedagogy, and activism coming together, there is hope for us to manage what we have and to create a sustainable human existence. One significant piece to supporting this valuable mission is the adaptation of education. I intend to create an invigorating thesis that provides a pragmatic approach to this end goal.


Addressing the Interconnections of Well-being: A Curriculum

By: Jonna Johnson

In the recent past attention to environmental and community well-being has been on the rise, and yet affronts to individual and collective well-being continue.  As a contribution to this increased attention I created a well-being curriculum informed by education literature and education models that work to enhance well-being.  I extend the well-being education conversation beyond most in that I treat our individual selves, each other, and the earth’s inhabitants in one work, as one work.  The parallels, connections and intersections between our caring for each piece (or not caring for each piece) necessarily build upon one another.  Important recovery cannot be reached without each piece being included.  Through experiential lessons the curricular unit aims to equip teachers and students with tools to live as healthier individuals, be more respectful toward others, assist in strengthening natural systems, and finally, recognize, act on and celebrate the intersections of each.


Antibiotic Use in Industrial Food Animal Production: Threats to Public Health and a Policy Based Intervention

By: Lauren Buck

Antibiotic-resistant infections have been estimated to cost the US an extra $20 billion dollars annually. Several studies have shown a high prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in US retail food. The scale of antibiotic use in food animal production may make it the greatest driver of antibiotic resistance in the US today. The world may face an era of incurable bacterial infections if we do not begin to use antibiotics in a prudent manner. This thesis characterizes the prevalence and diversity of extraintestinal pathogenic E. coli (ExPEC) on retail meat and poultry, describes a study to fill crucial knowledge gaps, and provides a policy-based intervention to reduce the severity of the problem.


Themes of Transformation:  How Public Achievement can Enhance Engaged Democratic Citizenship at Institutions of Higher Education

By: Jacob Dolence

My thesis explores and analyzes the experiences of Public Achievement coaches in Flagstaff, Arizona.  The format of the study is largely qualitative and ethnographic, and also integrates the authors experience, as he is part of the study population.  

The study addresses the following questions.

  1. What themes of transformation towards engaged democratic citizenship appear from undergraduate and graduate students involved in Flagstaff Public Achievement as coaches?
  2. How can Public Achievement make itself better in deeply instilling its values on the coaches themselves?
  3. What tangible findings can be taken from this study and applied to other civic engagement efforts on the NAU campus?

The answers from these questions have been researched using interviews, participant, observation, focus groups, power mapping, free listing, and my own reflections. The thesis presents strong evidence that the Public Achievement program in Flagstaff, AZ is having a beneficial impact on the NAU students involved.  Through story the reader will be able to understand how this experience did or did not facilitate positive transformation towards more engaged democratic citizenship in the students being studied.  The thesis also presents a review of the literature as to why this sort of engaged democratic education is absolutely vital to community sustainability. It finishes by making a call to action and illustrates how students involved in PA and the other civic engagement efforts have the enormous potential to not only be future leaders of the NAU campus, but leaders of their work places, communities, and organizations.  


Mitigating human waste problems in wildland recreation: A Fossil Creek case study

By: Emily Anderson

The intent of this study was to assess the problem of human waste at Fossil Creek, an over-used recreation area in Arizona.  Research included an evaluation of quantity and distribution of human waste in research sites to assess the extent of the problem.  An examination of human behavior theory literature provided insights into human waste management by identifying possible motivations for this depreciative visitor behavior at Fossil Creek.  This two-pronged approach enabled a deeper look at the issue of human waste management in wildland settings.

Christensen ‪ ‬

The Blossoming Spirit: An Exploration of Sustainable Agriculture in the Western United States

By: Angel Christensen

Over the past two decades, a renaissance of the small farm and the new agrarian has emerged in reaction to industrialized agriculture and its impact on the environment and humanity. Environmental degradation as seen in polluted waterways, unhealthy air quality and soil erosion can be largely attributed to unsustainable agricultural practices taking place across the United States. Small communities struggle as their economies fall by the wayside to large corporate farms. It is increasingly difficult for much of the population to access fresh, healthy food. In the midst of agricultural transition in America, there is a population of small-scale farmers and ranchers who never succumbed to industrialization. They remained on their farms and resisted the methods of corporate agribusiness that are so prevalent today in our food system. Through oral history interviews, I will bring to light the challenges and successes of non-industrial farmers who remained on their land during the period of intense industrialization of agriculture in the U.S. Their stories and defiance of America’s push for industrialized agriculture can be lessons for those who are currently engaged in the renewal of the small-scale farm.

Student Engagement on a University Campus in the 21st Century: The Student Sustainability Ambassador Program

By: Bryan McLaren

Institutions of higher education in the 21st century are facing some serious problems related to successfully educating their student population. Both student retention and student preparation for the competitive, global economy are being seriously called into question by educational experts, legislators, parents, and students themselves. One potential cause of this dilemma is the loss of student engagement in regards to educational studies.

Educational research throughout the past decade has focused on pinning down the relationship between student engagement and student success. The research has shown that there is a strong relationship between the two, as many of us would suspect, but that there are far too many variables involved to make strong quantitative conclusions.

This thesis will turn to the qualitative approach, examining student engagement and student success with a participant-observer research methodology. The research from this thesis will show that student engagement is the key to student success. I will introduce a new model of student engagement focused on sustainability related concepts centered on an educational framework called the Five Minds for the Future, first developed and introduced by Dr. Howard Gardner of Harvard University.

The thesis will conclude that a truly successful educational model that can create a system of student engagement must rely upon both academic and administrative buy-in. The literature review will introduce a program at Northern Arizona University called the Action Research Teams or ARTs. The framework and methodology will introduce my program, the Student Sustainability Ambassador Program. The ARTs approach engagement primarily through the community and academic realm, while the Sustainability Ambassadors approach engagement through the administrative realm. What my research will tell us is that we must combine these two approaches marrying the academic and administrative. I will conclude that this is the most successful way to create student engagement in the 21st century at an institution of higher education.

I Can Do This: Citizen-Led Infrastructure-Building and Sustainable Social Change Through Community Gardens

By: Colleen Sorensen

Prescott, Arizona has never before held a city-supported community garden.  This thesis documents the journey through the community garden infrastructure-building process in Prescott and is the story that is a guide for individuals passionate about their own community change.  This guide will assist and empower citizens to build sustainable communities through accounts of political and social networking, education, and community building endeavors.  It gives the details that other literature has glossed over.  

Research indicates that there has been a decrease in participation and social capital in America.  Further inquiry shows that these affects may follow back through our government’s history and influence.  This thesis illustrates causes for citizen disempowerment in our current culture.  Its intention is to be a foundation and support for positive connection and expansion within a community, enabling someone, with a desire to begin positive social change, to begin.

Ecocentric Outdoor Education: Expanding Curricula Through the Langauge of Ecopsychology

By: John Lynch

The following work explores a more holistic and complete model of outdoor education. It uses the language of eco-psychology to broaden the boundaries of understanding currently scene in traditional outdoor education and explores marginalized aspects of personal growth in outdoor education participants. 

My thesis begins with a personal narrative that chronicles my own personal development and growth in nature through my life. The first chapter functions in two ways: 1) It details how my own experiences have contributed greatly towards the origin of this thesis; 2) It creates an experiential component that supports the content found in the following chapters.

A literary review details three important components of this thesis: 1) Evidence for alternative benefits in outdoor education, 2) Traditional Outdoor Education, and 3) Eco-psychology.The next chapter works to explore the term eco-spirituality with the supporting language and theories found in eco-psychology. Logical explanations that increase understanding of nonwestern benefits are detailed to create support for eco-spirituality as a valid consideration for outdoor education.

The fourth chapter asks what place eco-spirituality has in contemporary outdoor education. It also envisions a new model of outdoor education by detailing what eco-centric additions could be implemented into the curricula.

Finally, I conclude the thesis by suggesting that the lack of understanding in outdoor education, surrounding human development in nature, is an extension of inadequate understanding within the greater western culture. Moreover, it points out that eco-centric processes in outdoor education can be extended towards the greater culture as model for transforming collective minds towards a more mature social system. 

Forgotten Fields: Coconino County's 100-Year Agricultural History, and the Events That Caused Its Decline

By: Meredith Hartwell

Coconino County, Arizona, had a rich, post-settler agricultural history that started during the mid- to late-1800s and lasted through the early 1960s. This thesis examines the ways in which agriculture started, flourished, was affected by specific local and national factors and policies, and declined as a result of a combination of factors. Commercial agricultural production of four primary crops, potatoes, beans, grains, and fruit, are examined as major contributors to the local economies and food system of Coconino County. 

The major factors leading to decline of agriculture in Coconino County were: an intense drought during the 1950s, the Soil Bank Program, the Federal Aid Highway Act, and the construction of Glen Canyon Dam. Two of these factors—the Soil Bank Program and Federal Aid Highway Act—had national repercussions that were also acutely felt on a local level.

All of these factors happened concurrently, during the 1950s. When the drought ended, the national and local developments that had occurred were profound enough that large farms did not return. This thesis seeks to illuminate the successes and agricultural abundance in Coconino County from the late 1800s to the 1960s, as well as to offer a counterpoint to the view that precipitation and climate alone caused farming’s decline. Instead, this research offers a more complex and nuanced view of how national socio-cultural and policy events combined with local challenges had broad, lasting effects on the agricultural landscape of Coconino County.

Creative Encounters: Investigating the Potentials of Art and Science Collaborations

By: Tamara Sullivan 

At a time of such instability with respect to climate change impacts, it is important for society to pursue various ways to enhance the public’s understanding of scientific findings. Art and science collaborations are a vital avenue for informing wider audiences of important ecological research.  The intent of this study is to assess successful models of collaboration between artists and scientists in order to inform my own collaborative work with the Cottonwood Ecology Group at Northern Arizona University. The thesis has two components: critical reflection on the process and challenges of forming art and science collaborations, and an art installation that seeks to communicate to the public elements of community and ecosystem genetics.

Contemporary art movements driven by autonomy and market values have not strongly supported artists in theory or practice to enable a proliferation of interdisciplinary and collaborative work. The challenges before us require creativity in relation to both art and science.  New frameworks in the contemporary art world such as dialogical and relational aesthetics are promising developments and suggest methods for assessing process-based artwork. Interesting and creative works in this vein are Mel Chin’s Revival Field and several of Mark Dion’s works, specifically Tate Thames Dig. Examples of successful creative work at the intersection of art and science, their work informs my own practice particularly with respect to creating ecologically focused artwork that maintains a strong aesthetic value.

The installation, entitled Networks, encompassed key elements of the Cottonwood Ecology Group’s research, which focuses on the interactive effect of genetics in cottonwoods, community structure, arthropod diversity, plant defensive chemistry, and evolution. This means that particular community phenotypes are interacting and creating community feedback loops that affect the individual expressing those traits. This is cutting edge ecological research, and it shows the cascading effects of climate change on an ecosystem phenotype. Community and ecosystem genetics increase the understanding of ecosystem processes such as nutrient cycling and evolution, as well as providing insights to applied issues such as how to preserve biodiversity and ecosystem function when faced with climate change, genetically engineered organisms (GEOs) and exotic species invasions.

The great potential of art and science collaborations is that through them the artist can re-ignite the role of the arts as a rich cultural medium through which to raise consciousness about important scientific research, propagate questions about climate change and environmental degradation and the respective impacts on social institutions.

Student Theses

"Convening Social Justice Learning Communities to Encourage Pre-Service Teachers to Build Anti-Oppressive Pedagogies and Practices," by Jaclyn Pace

"Cultivating Consciousness Within Community Gardens: Out Of The Iron Cage And Into A Living Web," by Cara Corbinmeyer

"Dialogic Landscape: Reciprocity Between A Campus Garden And A University Community," by Peter Augustus Moorhouse

"Reading Arizona’s Verde Valley: Agri-Ecology, Industry, Landscape Change, And Public History 1864-2014," by Mary A. McCarthy

"The Total Liberation Action Research Team: Re-Membering Practices Of Holistic, Creative, and Compassionate Justice," by Mara June Pfeffer

"The Wild Inside: Creative Possibilities For Positive Social Change," by J. Chase Buttice